Solving the ambiguities of reverse translation

A particular protein follows from the translation of a DNA sequence whereas the reverse translation need not have a specific solution according to the Genetic Code. The Genetic Code is degenerate which means that a particular amino acid can be translated into more than one codon. Hence there are ambiguities of the reverse translation.

In order to solve these ambiguities of reverse translation you can define how to prioritize the codon selection, e.g:

As an example we want to translate an alanine to the corresponding codon. Four different codons can be used for this reverse translation; GCU, GCC, GCA or GCG. By picking either one by random choice we will get an alanine.

The most frequent codon, coding for an alanine in E. coli is GCG, encoding 33.7% of all alanines. Then comes GCC (25.5%), GCA (20.3%) and finally GCU (15.3%). The data are retrieved from the Codon usage database, see below. Always picking the most frequent codon does not necessarily give the best answer.

By selecting codons from a distribution of calculated codon frequencies, the DNA sequence obtained after the reverse translation, holds the correct (or nearly correct) codon distribution. It should be kept in mind that the obtained DNA sequence is not necessarily identical to the original one encoding the protein in the first place, due to the degeneracy of the genetic code.

In order to obtain the best possible result of the reverse translation, one should use the codon frequency table from the correct organism or a closely related species. The codon usage of the mitochondrial chromosome are often different from the native chromosome(s), thus mitochondrial codon frequency tables should only be used when working specifically with mitochondria.

Other useful resources

The Genetic Code at NCBI:

Codon usage database:

Wikipedia on the genetic code